Cold War Olympics

A New Battlefront in Psychological Warfare, 1948–1956

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About the Book

The political tension of the Cold War bled into the Olympic Games when each side engaged in psychological warfare, exploiting sport for political ends. In Helsinki, the Soviet Union nearly overtook the United States in the medal count. Caught off guard, the U.S. hastened to respond, certain that the Soviets would use a victory at the next Olympics to broadcast their superiority over the Western world.

Following the 1956 suppression of the Hungarian uprising, a Soviet athlete struck a Hungarian opponent in the Melbourne water polo semifinals, turning the pool red. The United States covertly encouraged Eastern Bloc athletes to defect, communist Chinese agents nearly succeeded in goading their government into withdrawing from the games, and a forbidden romance between an American and Czech athlete resulted in a politically complex marriage.

This history describes those stories and more that resulted from the complicated relationship between Cold War politics and the Olympics.

About the Author(s)

Author and freelance journalist, Harry Blutstein is also a fellow at the University of Melbourne. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Bibliographic Details

Harry Blutstein

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 30 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8687-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4523-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Author’s Note xi
Preface 1
Chapter 1. Let the Cold War Olympics Commence 5
Chapter 2. Red Road to Olympus 18
Chapter 3. Dress Rehearsal 31
Chapter 4. Sotto Voce 47
Chapter 5. Stumbling Toward Melbourne 57
Chapter 6. Sport, Art and Opera 68
Chapter 7. Long Journey from the Night 82
Chapter 8. Should the Show Go On? 98
Chapter 9. Operation Griffin 111
Chapter 10. Games Within the Games 122
Chapter 11. Nina Vanishes 133
Chapter 12. The Making of an Olympic Hero 142
Chapter 13. The Lovers Who Came in from the Cold 153
Chapter 14. Sport über Alles? 172
Chapter 15. Blood in the Water 185
Chapter 16. Political Football 197
Chapter 17. The Games End, for Now 207
Chapter 18. The Freedom Tour 212
Chapter Notes 223
Bibliography 239
Index 245

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Highly informed and entertaining, capturing the subterranean tensions running through the games.”—Sydney Morning Herald

• “What raises this book above the ordinary is the very real experiences of the athletes involved. The Soviet and Hungarian stories are especially fascinating, with insights into the lives of athletes such as Nina Ponomaryova, the first Soviet Olympic champion.”—Books & Publishing

• “Courage, fear, intrigue, brutality, generosity, love, hate, romance, humor, triumph and tragedy: they’re all here in this superbly crafted book about the intimate entanglement of politics and sport during the deepest freeze of the global cold war. Harry Blutstein’s Cold War Olympics makes a major contribution to the history of international sport and politics, and with writing about some titanic Olympic sporting battles and the athletes who fought them that will have you on the edge of your seat.”—Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

• “Cold War Olympics is fast-paced, edgy and highly readable. Harry Blutstein crafts his gripping account with an impressive array of interviews, archival material and scholarship from across the globe. The result is a fascinating and accessible insight into a seminal moment in Olympic and Cold War history.”— Richard Mills, University of East Anglia

• “A fascinating account: I learned many interesting details about my teammates, leaders and various political figures in the political intrigues which occurred during and following the Olympic games in Melbourne.”—Nick Martin, a member of the 1956 Hungarian water polo team